Airport CDM: Head start or headache?


Last year a major airline claimed that Airport Collaborative Decision Making (Airport CDM) was responsible for poor on-time performance by an airport. Whatever the reasons for that complaint, it did raise an important question: Does integrating information flows and encouraging collaborative decision making among airport partners necessarily result in improved efficiency and fewer delays?

In ‘Making the jump from cooperative to collaborative decision making’ Alan Hiddleston notes that “Most airports have either made the jump or are thinking about how to implement collaborative decision making within their stakeholder community. The benefit of this approach to all stakeholders is widely acknowledged beyond achieving compliance with Eurocontrol’s A-CDM standard or the FAA NextGen initiative.”

Making that ‘jump’ is an important first step. However there is another jump in the Airport CDM initiative that’s seldom addressed: the leap of faith required to believe that collaborative decision making necessarily leads to improved performance.

As with many great ideas, the devil is in the details. Airport CDM integrates information flows from all stakeholders in the aviation system: aircraft operators, airport operators, ground handlers, air traffic control and central flow management units.

That’s a lot of information.

The overwhelming advantage of Airport CDM – the tsunami of detailed, real-time information that gets shared among all stakeholders – also creates its greatest challenge: mastering complexity.

I witnessed something of that complexity while helping one of Europe’s busiest airports rise to the challenge of assigning the most appropriate gates and stands to incoming flights. Part of the input for those decisions came from constantly changing updates of estimated arrival times. Once it was clear that a plane would be significantly delayed, there were a host of options to consider:

  • Should the flight be assigned to another gate? How would this affect other arrivals and departures?
  • Would the required personnel and equipment be available at the new location? How would rescheduling them affect other scheduled tasks?
  • Could alternative equipment be used and – if so – would personnel with the required qualifications be available? Was the alternative equipment available for the required time slot?

All this – and more – for a single flight.

When more is less

With Airport CDM, planners will have enormous quantities of information to consider. Lurking somewhere in all that information will be opportunities to take decisions that transform punctuality and increase airport capacity.

Will planners be able to find and seize all those opportunities?

Not in a million years.

Will they perform any better because they have access to all that information?

I suspect not.

Research seems to indicate that more information doesn’t necessarily lead to better decisions. Quite the opposite, in fact.

A study conducted by Angelika Dimoka, director of the Center of Neural Decision Making at Temple University, has revealed that as participants are given increasing amounts of information to apply to a problem, activity in the area of the brain responsible for decision making drops dramatically. According to Dimoka, “The participants … started making stupid mistakes and bad choices because the brain region responsible for smart decisions had essentially left the premises. With too much information, people’s decisions make less and less sense.”

Turning Airport CDM’s tsunami of information into better planning decisions won’t happen automatically. The key lies with intelligent planning systems that stand at the center of multiple sources of data and help planners and dispatchers transform all those inputs into intelligent decisions. Instead of being overwhelmed by streams of data, such a system rapidly and effortlessly applies all that input to enable airport operators to update plans on the fly and respond swiftly to changing circumstances.

Instead of post-mortem analytics (that enable you to explore the results of decisions when it’s too late to make a difference), such a system provides real-time feedback on forward-looking KPIs so that planners and dispatchers can take corrective action even before decisions are taken. They would be equipped to:

  • Translate demand into required capacity, while incorporating unique business rules, relevant skills, and regulations
  • Gain real-time insight into the implications of decisions – such as possible conflicts or rule violations
  • Swiftly identify cost-effective options that ensure safety and improve passenger satisfaction and comfort

Airport CDM is creating exciting opportunities for significant gains in performance and efficiency. Intelligent decision support will make it happen.